17th APEC Economies Leaders' Meeting Media Conference

Singapore, 15 November 2009
  • Remarks by Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore
We have had candid and fruitful discussions over the last two days. APEC has met at a critical juncture and the leaders were united in our priorities: to support the economic recovery, to pave the way for strong stable and sustainable growth in the region. You have seen the deliberations and the decisions. Let me briefly go through the key points.
Yesterday, we talked about connecting the region. First, we agreed to continue to promote free trade and open markets, to build on progress and fulfilling the Bogor goals and do more in areas like services, government procurement, trade facilitation and intellectual property rights.
Secondly, we heard various proposals to advance the vision of a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific, and we are not really ready to launch such an Asia-Pacific wide single FTA yet. But meanwhile we are exploring and pushing ahead along various possible pathways and all of us welcome very much the announcement by the US yesterday to engage with the TPP which means that Australia, Peru and other countries too will start negotiating to join the TPP and we hope we will move from where we are now a group of four, to a group of eight and a significant entity furthering the course of trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific.
Thirdly, we identified new issues to focus on, such as regulatory reform and improving connectivity through better transport and logistics linkages. And there was also strong consensus to approach economic integration comprehensively, combining trade liberalisation at the border, improving the business environment behind the border and enhancing supply chain connectivity across the border.
This morning, we had another good discussion on the topic of sustaining growth. First, we agreed to re-orientate our growth strategies to address the post-crisis landscape to account for realities like climate change, globalisation and macroeconomic imbalances. Our statement expresses our determination to implement a long-term growth strategy that supports balanced growth within and across economies that achieves greater inclusiveness and is more environmentally sustainable.
Secondly, we agreed that APEC should play a more active role. It is timely to do so on this 20th anniversary, to rededicate ourselves to an organization which has helped the Asia-Pacific to integrate and to prosper. But APEC needs to contribute solutions and to articulate the Asia-Pacific perspective on global economic issues.
Finally, we also agreed to align the APEC and G20 growth agendas more closely, to support and build on each others' strength and initiatives and the leaders of Canada and South Korea, who are hosting the next 2 G20 summits in 2010, briefed us on their plans and their thinking.
Singapore is very honoured to have hosted APEC in its 20th year. We are happy with the outcomes. I would like to thank everyone who has worked on this project. There must be thousands, if not tens of thousands of civil servants, officials, volunteers, Singaporeans, people who danced and performed last night, people who went out of their way to make the visitors happy in Singapore and to make the meeting a success. At least we have been good hosts to our APEC friends and we wish APEC well in the next phase ahead. So thank you and I'll take some questions.
Thanh Nien Newspaper Vietnam:
I read a report saying that before we came to the final declaration, there is a goal to cut 50% of emission to the level of 1990, but in the final declaration we don't see that. I heard that it is because of the pressure from China. Can you verify this?
PM: I do not have the blow-by-blow history of how we came to the final resolution but the final resolution is what it says. We are leading up to Copenhagen and I am sure the countries will be reserving some of their cards and particularly the bottom cards to be shown at the right moment. So I do not think they have shown their final position yet.
DowJones Newswire:
This is the last big forum before Copenhagen and we have seen the original draft that said you guys will try to cut emissions by 50% up to 4 years from now. It is a little bit, should I say. The question is - why did you drop the emissions?
PM: We did not drop the emissions, we negotiated the draft. We settled on the text. I do not know the ins and the outs but this is not an occasion for negotiating climate change. This is APEC and there is a declaration of intent in good faith and negotiations and the formal commitments will be done in the UN process, which is leading to Copenhagen.
You met President Barack Obama this morning. Can I have your assessment of what are the Singapore-US bilateral relations and how you hope to further develop these relations moving forward?
PM: Our bilateral relations are very good. We spend very little time discussing them because basically there are no issue to worry about. We discussed the regional landscape more and how we could work together to further the US engagement and cooperation with the region - region meaning in APEC region, region meaning in ASEAN - and I think the sense which I received from the President is that he is very much focused on Asia. As he said, Hillary Clinton had made 3 trips to Asia in this 1 year. And he is here and we have held the first ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting ever, including all 10 ASEAN countries. He came with an agenda and proposal on what he would like to do with ASEAN - whether it is education, disaster relief and management, social or cultural cooperation. It is a positive agenda which ASEAN gave a positive response to. All the ASEAN countries, without exception, were very happy to have the opportunity to engage America and to see greater prospects to cooperate with America. And the President also suggested that he would like to try and arrange another ASEAN-US summit next year. So our ministers will meet, and we will work to see if we can arrange that.
Euromoney Magazine:
The Obama administration has been increasing pressure on financial centres, most noticeably Switzerland, over matters such as client confidentiality and bank secrecy which are important matters for Singapore. Can you tell me, did these matters form part of your discussions with President Obama? Do you expect greater scrutiny pressure from the United States in this regard and what would be the impact on Singapore be if you have to compromise this part?
PM: We did not discuss it with President Obama. Our position is on the record. We support high standards of probity and integrity, and know your customer requirements. We do however believe that these requirements should be objective and there should be a transparent process by which they are implemented and not done in an discretionary sort of way. We support the OADC standards, we have been concluding DTAs (Double Taxation Agreements) with other jurisdictions and I think we have just crossed the hurdle to have enough double taxation agreements in order to enter the "white list". So, I do not think it is a burning issue for us.
China Daily:
The Chinese now view Shanghai as the new international financial centre in Asia. After the financial crisis, do you think Shanghai has the potential to replace Singapore and Hong Kong to become the international financial centre in Asia? And how do you see the advantages and disadvantages of these three cities in this regard of serving as Asia's financial centre?

PM: I think Shanghai has every potential to grow into a financial centre. As the Chinese say, it is the dragon's head of the Yang Tze River and a tremendous vibrant economy and a financial centre for China. And there is no doubt that its role will continue to grow in prominence. To become an international financial centre, you need more than just domestic vibrancy. You also need rule of law; you need the legal framework; you need the international talent to be there and the presence of activities which together make the critical mass to form a financial centre. There are different financial centres in Asia ? there is Tokyo, there is Hong Kong, there is Singapore and there will be Shanghai. There is also Sydney, if you count Sydney as part of Asia. How they divide up the financial requirements and the financial services amongst themselves, and how they serve different parts of Asia and play different roles will evolve over time. For example, Singapore and Hong Kong both do well, but we both have slightly different niches. Singapore is more omni-directional, covering Southeast Asia, India, as well as East Asia and Australasia. Hong Kong is now more focused on North-east Asia and on China. And I think we both get along well and there is business for both of us. So, we look forward to Shanghai prospering, and to us being able to cooperate with Shanghai as part of the vibrancy of the region.
You mentioned earlier about the first US-ASEAN meeting. Can you tell us what you have achieved in that meeting and also secondly, can you talk about this "new growth paradigm" which you mentioned in the Leader's Declaration?
PM: First of all, that the meeting took place at all. That ASEAN considers it important to have a summit meeting with the US President and the US President considers it worthwhile to have a summit meeting with all ten ASEAN members, notwithstanding, difficulties which they have, particularly with Myanmar. I think that is very significant. I think the meeting achieved a meeting of minds, that both sides believed that this is a relationship which is worthwhile, which needs to be broadened and deepened, and that we ought to work together in a wide range of areas to make this happen.

On the "new growth paradigm", we know that the old formulas are not going to work as well in future because it is a different world. The challenges are different and the constraints are different. The old way of Asia manufacturing and exporting, and America borrowing and importing and consuming ? it is not going to work that way anymore. Therefore, you have to find another balance and have to find another way where our people can prosper and can grow in a sustainable manner, which does not depend so much on the American consumer. At the same time, another factor is the climate change problem and the need to reduce carbon emissions. And that means we have to grow less energy intensively, work more efficiently, have higher productivity and less waste. And that means economic restructuring in many countries. It is something which will have to take place over a period of time. But it is something which the countries fully understand and are seized with. Certainly, China is seized with it. They talk about stimulating domestic demand which is what you can do in the short term just by printing money and distributing that as presents.

But in the long term, you cannot do that. In the long term, you have to restructure your economy, restructure your income distribution, your production patterns, and I think that the Chinese government understands that and is working on that. Singapore understands it and we are working on the economic strategies committee, which is working towards proposals to be ready by the budget next year. But that is another press conference.

Were currencies discussed today? Because people are saying that China is not changing its yuan, the US dollar is weak, and that protectionism comes also in the form of currency controls.

PM: Currencies were part of the discussion amongst the leaders. Some of the leaders expressed their concern over the possibility of currency movements which could become unstable, and also the potential problems which could arise if governments had to intervene continually in order to manage their currencies. But we did not have an in-depth discussion. They were mentioned.
Radio France International:
ASEAN in the past has demanded to be a regular member of the G20 group. Has this demand has been discussed in this two-day meeting?
PM: ASEAN Chairmen has attended the last two G20 meetings, one in London and one in Pittsburgh, as ASEAN of course would like to contribute to the G20 process. And we think that we have a contribution to make because the G20 process needs to take inputs from non-G20 members. And we hope that ASEAN chairmen will continue to have an opportunity to be present and to present ASEAN's point of view in future G20 meetings. This is something which was raised in our meetings and also with the host of the next two G20 meetings - Korea and Canada.